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Japanese, American and Mexican food come together at this fusion joint.
Unit 6, G/F One Mckinley Place, 26th corner 4th Avenue,
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
Tel. No. 846-9681
Open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Once upon a time not too long ago, in a secluded spot in “Da Fort,” was a sushi bar. It was tiny—cozy, even—and it’s opening thrilled me because finally there was a place nearby me where I could savor one of my all-time favorite things to eat.
However, this post ain’t about that place. To be quite honest, it wasn’t very good. I had such high hopes for it, and envisioned myself trotting over on a whim for a nigiri or three, but alas, my first time just killed it for me. I had no intentions of going back. Apparently, that was the same effect it had on other people. Every time I passed by I saw that it was practically empty. Faster than you could release tears from wasabi burn, it closed shop, and who could blame them for doing that? Perhaps they just didn’t have “it.” So imagine my curiosity when I saw that someone had taken over the space to open another restaurant.
First thing that I saw was the sign that went up. It said “Toro.” Could it be a tapas bar? Or a... nah, it can’t be. Another sushi bar (since “toro” also means fatty tuna belly in Niponggo)? Turns out it’s a bit of both. Sort of.
I hate using the word “fusion” (such an outdated and abused term) but that’s exactly what it is. When you read the menu, there’s a strong Japanese sense, a bit of American, and even Mexican. Japexican? Amerimexanese? Something like that. Even the interiors are of that bent. Napkins look like a bullfighter’s hat. The mural on the wall looks Japanese-Spanish. The bar is very Western. But guess what? It all works. It’s cozy, in a neighborhood-y kind of way, and that certainly works for me. Hurray for the small neighborhood joint!
It was whispered to me that Sau del Rosario, rockstar chef, was chef consultant, and I know he’s an advocate of the freshest produce, using organics when possible, which is always good. I always say that the restaurants should lead the charge in healthful eating.
Here’s the rub on the grub: I’ve been there a few times already since my first time a few weeks ago when they first opened and were on “soft opening,” and I have to say this—they’re doing a pretty damn good job. This will mean nothing to you, until you start thinking about the last time you went to a restaurant on “soft opening” and everything was spot on. For me, “soft opening” in Manila often means: "we’re still fixing up some dishes," or "the waiters have no clue what we’re serving," and "your food will take awhile as the kitchen is still getting used to cooking.” Not the case here. Granted that perhaps it being a small joint makes it not as busy as the giant mall-based eating establishments. But still. Hats off to them!
A nice, velvety, curry tinged pumpkin soup (P260) came with a little block of tofu and a piece of kake-age or veggie tempura. It was a simple soup given a nice little twist—great stuff, but a bit pricey in my book. An East-West salad (P330) came with apples, sprouts, walnuts and nori—refreshing on a hot day—as was their kingfish ceviche (P290). Their riff on Caesar (P290) came with wedges of lettuce and tempura with dressing on the side—very contemporary, and a welcome change from the dozens of haphazardly done Caesar salads in a lot of mediocre restaurants. One of my favorite things on their menu is the seared salmon nigiri (P370), which had the fish lightly blow-torched, and with a ponzu type sauce on top. Lovely green finger chilies (pang sigang!) came stuffed with cream cheese and fried tempura style—a simple yet satisfying dish, especially for the lovers of spicy stuff. Speaking of spicy, they have a rice bowl of tofu and sprouts (P390) in a spicy red sauce which I do like a lot. It has saved me on occasion, especially on my Meatless Mondays practice. This red sauce tends to appear in several of their dishes though, and such was the case of a spicy chicken rice bowl topped with fried basil. Not necessarily a bad thing, though it does tend to stick out and can’t help but be noticed.
I had a tasty little chicken katsu sandwich (P390) with wasabi aioli—a tender thigh cutlet nestled in between a nice (albeit slightly burned) ciabatta load, which I suspect came from Chef Sau’s bakery. Again, very simple, but well-executed. This seems to be the theme of the food here: don’t mess with the food too much, and let the flavors shine through. And that's perfectly fine by me.
All in all, I can really say that I’m looking forward to the things they will bring out in the future. Despite the many new restaurants opening around the area, very few have really piqued my interest as a customer. Toro has managed to bring me back more than twice even. Only one little slip up for me—their menu still needs a bit more “depth,” a bit more variety perhaps, though ultimately, I don’t see this as a real problem. They’re new, young, and can take their menu to as many directions as they want. What I love about it is is that its managed to raise the bar for Bonifacio neighborhood restaurants once again. I hope the others who are thinking of opening food joints follow suit.
Come in for some grub, even grab a drink if you want. Toro is a great place to have a nice long chat with friends. It’s casual enough to come in jeans, but if you want it to be a jumping point to a night out, then that’s okay too. Some dishes are a bit pricey for what they are so tread carefully, but other than that by all means fire away.
Rating: 3.5 out 5 Spots
Photos by JJ Yulo